Shobha De’s liberated Women
Sarojini Naidu VanithaMahaVidyalaya
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ShobhaDe’s women are liberated ones rebelling against the established traditional norms of the patriarchal society. De’s women are liberated in the sense that they often dare to stepout of the confines of their homes, marriages, and families.They stand for complete freedom to women fromall types of patriarchal restraints. They tirelessly struggle for their in ordina teambitions with all their strengths in the male dominated society. In their efforts to assert themselves, sometimes they turn the applecart of patriarchal order upside down. They retaliate, revolt and shape their destiny by living for themselves. They don’t believe in suffering submissively, they leave no stone unturned to reach the peak of joy and success. Brimming with hope and zeal, they lay hands on hope in starry nights of their life. The present study aims to show how liberated the women depicted by Deare.
Shobha De’s Liberated Women
Shobha De has been many things to many people. Her high voltage career happened in unexpected way: right form her unplanned entry as a teenager into the glamorous world of modelling to her high-profile years as a magazine editor, columnist, TV scriptwriter and author. In these incarnations she minutely observed the upcoming India. Here’s a voice of a new Indian woman that speaks of choices she made,the decisions she took and the influences that shapedher.
De’s women are liberated ones rebelling against the established traditional norms of the patriarchal society, incontrast to those who mutely tolerate suffering all the physical and psychological cruelties and spend all their lives in suffocated atmosphere. While the latter passively accept everything that comes to them by fate or tradition, under the notion that a woman cannot live alone, De’s women are different as they do not meekly accept their subordinate position duly asserting their individuality. They resent, resist, and reject male dominance. Contrast to weak and submissive traditional Indian woman, De’s woman is strong, courageous enough to get emancipated from orthodox role of women. She does not need the protection and umbrella of a male partner in her day-today routine. As a matter of fact, they easily outplay their male counterparts. The males are subdued and threatened by the self-assured and self-reliant females. Her women rebel against the traditional image of Indian women, whatever may be the field familial, social or business. They reveal the dominant picaresque element. In fact, all the novels of De appear to be the modernised version of the 18thcentury picaresque fiction. The picaro in her fiction is a woman who wanders from place to place in search of more fulfilling experiences. De’s women are liberated in the sense that they often dare to step out of the confines of their homes,marriages, and families. They stand for complete freedom to women from all types of patriarchal restraints. The husbands feel powerless and threatened by the strange and domineering position of their women. They tirelessly struggle for their inordinate ambitions with alltheir strengths in the male dominated society.In their efforts to assert themselves, sometimes they turn the applecart of patriarchal order upside down.They retaliate,revolt and shape their destiny bylivingfor themselves.They don’t believe insuffering submissively,they leave no
stone unturnedtoreach the peak of joy and success. Brimming with hope and zeal, they lay hands on hope instarry nights of their life. Their crusade against slavery, oppression and exploitation is alarming.
In the sphere of marriage, wives are always loyal to husbands in Indian culture. But most of the husbands are disloyal to them leading their own romantic life. They demand loyalty from their wives ridiculously even though they are involved in illegitimate relationships. Shobha De’s narratives descend to realistic level when she deals with the frustrated or distressed women. The element of fantasy is replaced by the commonplace realism daily life. ShobhaDe has presented all the facets of women.The art world has its own glamour where people follow a sort of neo-culture. Shobha De most strikingly attempts to propagate the idea that female subjectivity is not just a slavish succumbing to male dominance but every woman is a staunch feminist in her heart resisting male injustices, sometimes using her physical charm and sexuality as an unfailing weapon and ultimately it is the woman who sustains the psychologically fragmented man.
The most significant social issue that Shobha De focuses on is the infidelity in the institution of marriage.When a woman is caught in the trap of marriage, the colourful picture melts gradually in front of her. Every attempt the woman makes to redefine her identity always ends up in lack of communication. At this juncture, the woman feels loneliness. In order to search for a companion, she considers another man as substitute to share her love. Mismatches always lead to destabilisation in family life. Generally, a woman gets ready for marriage, in the hope of realising all her dreams about love and pleasures of life. When she fails to achieve this marital bliss, she starts developing detachment with her partner. It leads todislocationanddisplacementoftheirrelations.Whenawomanisfrustratedinherconjugal relationship, she is painfully and helplessly pulled into a relative and parallel relationship withanotherman.Sheconsidersherhusbandas‘other’personwhoisfoundinthewedlock.
A cursory reader of Shobha De’s may misconstrue that she is to a fault pre-occupied with sex and that her women are sexually liberated and use sex on their own terms. Indisputably her images and metaphors may appear to be lewd, licentious, and crossing the limitsofdecency.However,mostofthewomendepictedbyDeareeconomically
independentandsociallyuninhibited,besidesareconsciousoftheirself-respect.Thewomen inherworldareenterprising,bold,innovativeandeverreadytofacechallenges.Letusnow look at the ‘Liberated Women’ that De has depicted in hernovels.
Socialite Evenings, Shobhaa De’s first novel, is about the journey of a prominent Bombay socialite Karuna from a gauche middle class girl to a self-sufficient woman. Karuna does not remember much of her childhood except the strict vigilance of her father. Her mother, who was preoccupied with domestic chores, does not devote much time to “know” her daughter. Karuna’s life starts only when they migrate to Bombay because of her father’s official transfer. She meets Anjali, a prominent socialite and the wife of a wealthy playboy. Karuna desires to get rid of her middle class background and shabbiness of her life as the daughter of a middle-rung government official.
Anjali is an independent lady, rich, confident and beautiful. She has everything the modernwomanneeded:Frenchperfumes,ImpalainsilvergreyandafancyplaceinMalabar Hills.Moreover,shebelongstotheworldoffashiondesigningandadvertising.Thisexample ofAnjalimakesKarunatothinkthatthefashionworldcanbringwealth,freedomandstatus in her life and would help her fulfil all her desires. So she freely indulges in the fashionable world of modern life introduced to her by Anjali, the middle-aged prominentsocialite.
Karuna’s very entry in the glamorous world of modelling and friendship with her boyfriendBunty,istheactofrebellionagainsttheestablishedtraditionalnormsofpatriarchal society. Throughout the novel, Karuna’s psyche develops through protest and defiance. For instance, though Karuna’s marriage is a complete failure she has only a formal relationship with her husband. Even she never calls her husband by his name but in a derogatory term such as a ‘Black Label’. There is no intimacy between them. The relationship between them is totally deprived of mutual understanding, love andaffection.
Deciding to lead a single life and to assert her individuality, Karuna divorces her husband.Afterherdivorce,herhusbandmeetshertoexpresshisregretandaskhertocome back and live with him. He is prompted to visit her by the typical patriarchalunderstanding
and expectation regarding women’s response in such situations. But Karuna’s response is shocking and unexpected because she firmly asks her husband to go away. It is a powerful jolt to the patriarchal man. She even verbally abuses her husband when he comes with the proposal to remarry her.
Now she prefers ‘friendship’ to permanent subjugation and hence also rejects the proposal of Ranbir Roy. Karuna refuses to conform to the traditional image of woman anymore and hence she rebels against the patriarchal system. She resents, resists and rejects male dominance. Karuna differs considerably from Anjali and Ritu, the two other important women characters in the novel. They, like Karuna, do not challenge the patriarchal system. Though Anjali defies the traditional norms of moral values and rises to the social status of upper classes, she cannot live without husband. First she marries Abe, to get exploited and later get divorce from him. Then she marries Kumar Bhandari. However, this second marriage of Anjali changes the course of her life completely because her husband turns homosexual. In spite of this fact she does not break it. Ritu, a friend of Karuna, also leaves her husband for Gul, the underworld don, which turns her into a whore and a pimp. Thus after having suffered mentally and physically at the hands of her lover, she returns to her husband. But Ritu on the other hand invents a strategy to keep her husband within her control. The novelist presents these modern women having courage to revolt and refuse being puppets in the hands of men in the name of tradition and society.
Karuna’s self-actualised portrayal reflects her longing to initiate and regulate her life on her own. Contrast to weak and submissive traditional Indian woman, she is strong, courageousenoughtogetemancipatedfromorthodoxroleofwomen.Shedoesnotneedthe protectionandumbrellaofamalepartnerinherday-todayroutine.Sheiscapableandstrong enoughtofaceanyadversesituation.Sheintendstomoveoutandmakealifeforherself.She no longer needs man’s attention. She keeps herself very cleverly at a safe distance from wolfish males such as Abe and Gul. Besides, as a liberated and emancipated woman, she declines Girish’s offer of marriage and also remains unaffected by Varun’s threats. Varun’s association with politicians, journalists and underworld could not make her move from the path she haschosen.
All women presented inSocialite Eveningsare attractive and self-assured. They are well aware of their own strengths and are also clever enough to hide their weaknesses.They arehappywithwealth,andthepleasureswhichtheycouldbuywithmoneyandthefreedom.
ShobhaDe,asajournalistandmagazineeditor,wascloselyassociatedwiththeworld ofMumbaiCinema.Therefore,sheknowswellaboutthedarklifebehindthescreen,withall its ugly, dirty details. It is this life that finds expression inStarry Nights. All the women characters presented in the novel such as Aasha Rani, Sudha Rani, Rita and Malini, in one way or the other, are related to the world of films. Aasha Rani journeys from a small town background to the tinsel world of Bombay. In order to emerge as a top heroine, she utilizes every opportunity by breaking up the traditional shackles. De in this novel suggests that the only way a woman like Aasha Rani can reach the ladder of success is‘Sex’.
Starry Nightsis the story of the struggle and survival of a woman in a sex-starved society. It focused on women’s struggle for recognition and survival and made them realise that the time has come when they should stop suffering silently in helplessness.
The novel is also a faithful portrayal of the film world with all its perfidies, glamour, crimes,lies,anddeceitsandsexualexploitation.Thoughsexandglamourmaybethemeans to seek success, it is admitted that many women strive hard to strengthen themselves as artists.Thenewwomanisreadytosacrificeher‘physicalself’inordertoclimbtheladderof success in the form of money and fame. But many women fail in their hasty attempts in this direction so they end up as prostitutes. When this novel has attempted to explore the hard- corerealitylurkinginthecorporatehighsociety,Dehasfacedprotestfromthemenwhoare unable to accept thetruth.
InSisters,Shobha De explains the theme of the new woman who attempts to assert herself in this mischievous world.Unlikeitspredecessors,Sistersfor thefirsttimedeals withthepsychic conflictinits,liberated woman-protagonistwhoiscaughtbetweena‘personalself’anda
‘societalself’.Thenovelthusfocusesasmuchon theseamysideofthebusiness lifeasontheinnerturmoilof the protagonist.
For several chapters this story about a very rich, young US-returned Gujarati heiress MikkiHiralalwhohasagreatandexpensivedresssensebutcan’ttellamanfromamonster, careens along without tripping over four-letter words or situations. Her industrialist father and minor-princess-mother have just died in an airplane crash, their privateplane.
Mikkihasahalf-sisterAlishawhohatesMikkiasshehastheHiralalnameandmoney. But as the story progresses, Mikki loses her money while the sister turns from a slightly trampy and bitter 19-year-old into a rich real estate promoter. From her fabulous new house she can see the top of Mikki’s bungalow, a fact which is for her the height of revenge. As the story progresses, Alisha goes through drugs, men, tantrums, slashed wrists, born-again religion and an intense love affair with a Malayalee doctor.
Thestructureofthenoveliscinematicwithitsclimax,beingreminiscentofoneofthe most make-believe scenes of the modern pop cinema. ButSisters, which covers four years in the life of Mallika, is a fine study in the traumatic experiences of a woman caught up in the whirlpoolofcomplexhumansituations.Thenarration,simpleanddirect,addstotheauthenticityofthestory.Sistersunfoldsthelifestoryoftwosisters–Mikki,thelegitimatedaughterofSethHiralalandAlisha,theillegitimatedaughterofSethHiralalandLeelabehn.
ThetransformationofMikkifromameresocialbutterflytoamaturewomanandtoa kindly mother-figure is apparent when she turns her attention towards her estranged sister. Mikki’s encounter with different men helps her grow into an independent-minded woman, while Alisha, failing to get any hint from her experience, becomes an introvert. Ironically, Mikki and Alisha are united only after the death of the latter’s mother. With her motherly affection, Mikki attempts to soothe the wounded self of her sister. She helps her get overallthe emotional hurdles in her life. The novel comes to an end with both the sisters realising the need to livetogether.
Shobha De’s explosive novel revolves around the life and lustful relationship of two young women, Amrita and Meenakshi. Fundamentally, it seems to be a psychological documentation of sexual obsession of mysterious woman Meenakshi, also known as Minx and her calamitous end. Both represent the different kinds of topology of modern urban set up. They seem to be hardly better than school girls playing adult games. It is through their behaviour and conversations that Shobha De throws significant light on the predicament of these two young women-Minx and Amrita.
InStrangeObsessionsShobhaDereiteratesthetheorythatawomangetsrealpeaceand security only in the home of her husband. It is the story of Amrita Aggarwal, a young beautiful super model of Bombay. Within months of her arrival in Bombay, she is the envy of its beautiful people. Then, one day, she attracts the attentions of a mysterious woman calledMinx.Asthemonthspassbyandthedemandsofherunwelcomesuitorgrow,Amrita’s lifeturnsnightmare.Itisanunforgettablenovelofsexualobsessionanditsconsequences.InStrangeObsessionShobhaDeobserveskeenlythesurfacerealitythatcanbeseenintheurban rich classfamilies.
Feministsbelievethatnaturalrelationshipssubstantiatethedominationofmaninthe patriarchal society. The presence of man makes woman feel submissive and in a way it revealswoman’soppression.Inordertoliberateherselffromtheclutchesofmalehegemony, she challenges patriarchy acknowledging lesbianism. Lesbianism cannot be seen as an act of subversion.Itisacompletewoman’sworld.Itisobservedinlesbianism-theabsenceofman, of no sisterhood and no universal womanhood. The survival over patriarchy is, in fact, importantforthem.Itallowswomantohealthewoundsoutsidethespectrumofpatriarchy.
At times, unattended and uncared for girls resort to lesbianism. It is a means of security and comfort for them. Estranged daughter-parent relationships cause disturbance that result in unnatural relationships. Meenkshi Iyengar (Minx) is a prototype for this kind of disturbed psyche in the novel. She is the disturbed child of a Police Commissioner and suffersfromindifferencefromherparentsinsharingherclaimsandlove.Henceshedecides toinvolveinastrangerelationshiplikelesbianismwithamodelnamedAmrita.Thefinancial
autonomy in the elite circles makes lesbian life possible. This sort of strange relationship impacts the lives of the subjects as a whole and helps them to resolve their psychological problems. In the case of Amrita and Minx, lesbianism is a strange obsession found in the world of modelling. It is a means of victimisation and exploitation for the aspirants in the glamour world.
Shobha De explores the concealed realities in the glitz world. The dreams ofinnocent girls who wish to enter movies and modelling are shattered and exploited in this novel. It is not presented as an issue of challenge in the case of Amrita. She is forcibly dragged to the web of lesbianism to survive in the modelling world. These kinds of relationships also lead to the destruction of one’s own personality and career. They do not take it as a means of protection.
Like her other novels, Shobha De brings out the absurdities of life in high-society of Bombay. De treats the subject of sex elaborately; the sadistic homosexual tendencies ofMinx present the height of alternativesexuality.1
InSultryDays,ShobhaDedepictsawomanwhodefiesmaledominationsuppressing her individual urges. The novel has women who are obsessed with men; they, too, indulge in beating men at their own game.Sultry Daysdepicts the shady side of urban rich class society,wheresexandpowerplayavitalroleinthelivesoftheprotagonist,Deb(nicknamed God) and his friend, Nisha. We also come across some glimpses of commitment, thereby giving credence to the fact that not all writings of Shobha De are ‘aberrations’ and that there is a possibility of even her returning to the mainstream of writing after a few‘sallies’.2
Sultry Daysis again the story of the shady side of Mumbai upper class society. The main protagonist, Deb has a ruthless policy towards women. He always wishes to use them and throw them out after having sexual gratification with them. The element of fantasy is
1Vats, Naresh. K: "The Escape: Strange Obsession" inShobha De: A Critical Response, p. 104
2Shrivastava, Sharad: "Return of Shobha De to the Mainstream 'New Woman': A Study of Sultry Days" inThe Fictionof Shobha De, p. 233-34
replaced by the real life incidents appear in daily life. It is observed in the severed relations betweenNishaandDebinSultryDays.WhenNishafeelsthatDebisnolongercommittedto their relationship, she senses her days sultry and so she decides to live life in her ownway.
Sultry Daysinfers that a woman with a fully integrated personality, can face the challengestosolvemanyproblemsinherlifeandsheneednotbeavictim,afactmanifested through the powerfully drawn character of Nisha, who initially worked in an advertising agencysubsequentlyadoptingthecareerofajournalist.Marriageisnotregardedasessential inSultryDays.
Some of the girls are naturally captivated by heroic deeds of riff-raffs at college level in the Indian urban context. As a result, they neglect their academic pursuit to enjoy every pore of the society they live in. But it always becomes a world of fantasy bereft of reality. Nisha is a prototype of ordinary womanhood. She loves Deb at college but he fails to reciprocateherloveseriously.Hence,shedeniesnoknowledgeinacademicsa